William Marvel's Response

August 21, 2000,

Dear Mr. Brown, 

I've spent several days now going over the new information you have collected about the 5th (and 6th) U.S. Colored Cavalry casualties at Saltville. The only material with which I can compare it is the collection of notes I accumulated a decade ago from the carded casualty lists, the Kentucky Adjutant General's report, and individual service records. I could therefore offer no conclusive response without another lengthy sojourn at the National Archives, but your discoveries are interesting enough to warrant immediate comment. 

The report of Surgeon William Egle, with which I was previously unfamiliar, lists 52 enlisted men who were presumably wounded and who were missing after the battle. My notes appear to account for 28 of those 52, as follows: 1 (John Henry) was also listed as present with the regiment on October 8, 1864, indicating that he survived the campaign; 27 others were men I counted as survivors of the battle and massacre because I found records indicating that they had died, deserted, or returned to the regiment subsequent to the massacre, or that they had become casualties in subsequent battles such as the December campaign to Saltville. Of the remaining 24 there are still 5 for whom I have yet found no records at all, previous or subsequent to the battle: these men's names appear to have been too badly corrupted on the surgeon's report and/or the carded casualty lists to allow for positive identification. The final 19, though, definitely appear to be missing men. Two of the 19 were described as mortally wounded, and may have died on the field of their wounds. Two of the 19 represent new men on my list: for instance, I had supposed Kane Scott, Cain Scott, and King Scott to be all the same man: while the first two names do represent a duplication, King Scott seems to be different man. For none of the 19 were you or I able to find any further record, and all 19 may have murdered, either on the field, at Emory & Henry hospital, or on the return to Kentucky by people like the farmer named Stinson.

I can't comment intelligently on the descriptive lists or muster rolls because I have not examined them. I did notice, though, on your matrix of various 5th U.S.C.C. records that many of the gaps in the muster rolls and descriptive lists for certain soldiers correspond to gaps in the surgeon's report and carded casualty lists for other soldiers, suggesting significant duplication. Let me point out a few examples of that apparent duplication. You have taken the name of Jackson Harriman from the Company G descriptive list as a man missing from Saltville, but you have no other record of him; you do, however, have a Harrison Jackson of Company G who is listed as missing on the surgeon's report and the carded casualty lists, and they are almost certainly the same man. You found Zack Martin reported missing on the descriptive list, muster roll, and on his individual service record, but you did not find him on the surgeon's report or the carded casualty lists; there is a Jack Martin on those last two records, though, while he lacks the three records that come up under the name Zack Martin, and they are also very likely the same man.

Similarly, the Benjamin McCommick of the surgeon's report is probably the same man as the Preston McCormick of the carded casualty lists, which were compiled from the same surgeon's report. The Solomon Harrison listed as missing on his service record and listed as killed in his pension file is probably identical to the Saul Harrison listed as missing on the surgeon's report and on the carded casualty lists. There are numerous other instances of probable or potential duplication. 

For all of that, I would instinctively suppose that at least some of the additional names you have found represent men who went to Saltville with the unorganized black regiment, and who never returned for one reason or another. Some of those, from a few to a lot, may have been victims of the massacre on the morning of October 3. Even if all of your new men turned out to be victims it would not increase the extent of the slaughter to even half the 100-or-so on which some historians have hung their hats, but if only a few of them proved to be victims -- say 24, instead of my 12 -- it would still increase my earlier calculations by a significant proportion. That would simultaneously diminish the air of exaggeration that seemed to hover around the massacre and better explain the testimony of more credible witnesses. 

If I may, I would also like to comment on such sources as that testimony. I have never doubted Captain Orange Sells's truthfulness, but his observation of a "good many" murders was as compatible with my estimate of up to a dozen victims as it would be with two dozen, or more. Your discovery that Lieutenant George Carter was not an impostor, but rather Lieutenant George Cutler misidentified, removes the suspicion that his testimony was perjured, but he only reported seeing eight to ten victims killed: that could either be supportive of my lower estimate or it could represent a fragment of a larger massacre. Henry Shocker's pension file still leaves him especially suspicious as a prevaricator, however, and the written accounts of Confederates like George Mosgrove and Lee Smith still suffer from the same credibility problems that I originally described.

I was disappointed that in his "responses" to my Saltville work Thomas Mays offered little substance in his critique of my assessment of those sources. Apparently he had never consulted the documents under discussion, so he had nothing with which to respond but bluster. I had never seen the master's thesis Mr. Mays produced, although it appears that I assisted him with it in some minor way, but his misquotation of my published work and his habit of rhetorical obfuscation left me with a poor opinion of him as a historian. I did recently examine his book on Saltville, but I dismissed it for its lack of documentation. None of that means that Mr. Mays (and you) have not found additional victims of the massacre, any more than the exaggerations of Mosgrove, Smith, and others means that a more extensive massacre did not take place. It would be interesting to know exactly what happened (which, after all, is why most of us pursue history), but it would be a pity if evidence of widespread slaughter were necessary to convince anyone that the killings of October 3 constituted an atrocity.


William Marvel